The Associated Companies  

The Associated Companies is the title of a joint venture originally undertaken by five City Livery Companies in Ireland led by the Mercers’ Company four centuries ago.

On coming to the throne of both England and Scotland in 1603, James I wished to secure his possessions in the British Isles, the most vulnerable of which was Ireland. He therefore devised a plan to transplant a number of his most reliable subjects to the area of Northern Ireland which was to become known as the County Londonderry.  His main problem with this grandiose proposal was his shortage of resources to fund such a scheme.  In 1609, James therefore called upon the City of London to finance it. In 1610, the City responded by initially agreeing to provide £20,000, to which each of the 12 Great Companies would be required to fund a proportion of the total.

The first tranche which the Mercers were called upon to pay was £410, to which the Mercers strongly objected as being excessive. As a result the Mercers managed to reduce the second tranche to £310. Because a total of 55 Livery Companies were included in the funding of the project, the Mercers called upon four lesser Companies to contribute. These included originally the Masons for £100, the Innholders and Cooks for £200 each and the Broderers for £153. No written agreement was ever concluded for this joint enterprise.  The next stage was the allocation of land to the groups of Companies in 1613. The total of land to be apportioned was 500,000 English acres (i.e.  4, 840 sq. yds per acre); the Irish acre was less precise being the amount of land required to graze a cow.

The Associated Companies, as the Mercers group had become known, were granted an area of 33.5 sq. miles (21,600 English acres ) in a deed  dated 17th October 1618 on the west bank of the River Bann which nowadays includes the small town of Kilrea. By this stage the Mercers had paid £3,920, the Masons £150, the Innholders and Cooks £300 each and the Broderers  £233. There was however confusion over the areas allocated to all the groups, a shortage of immigrants, lack of funding, and poor returns on the investments. In 1906 the land was compulsorily purchased and resold to the occupying tenants. By this time the Innholders had long resigned from the Association.

Despite the poor result of the joint venture the four remaining Livery Companies, the Mercers, the Masons, the Cooks and the Broderers continued to enjoy the fellowship which had been built up over the centuries, so much so that in 1948 yet another joint venture was undertaken by them in Southern Rhodesia. Again there was no written agreement and the project fared no better than the first enterprise.

Today the Associated Companies as a group flourishes on the close continuing friendship of the members, who remain firmly together socially and charitably. Each year the Companies decide together how to support a charitable enterprise, the most recent being the Gullion Link project centred on St Ethelburga’s Church in the City of London and Newry in Northern Ireland.